Freedom’s Cause #35 – February 21, 2021


As of Friday, February 19, the count of active positive cases among incarcerated persons stands at 48 (up from 45 two weeks ago). 1,052 persons are in quarantine (up from 941), and 59 are in isolation (up from 52). The number of reported deaths stands at 25. Active positive cases are reported in DCI (3), FLCI (1), JCI (9), John C. Burke (1), Oakhill (1), OSCI (1), RYOCF (4), and SCI (28). The total count of positive tests for incarcerated persons is 10,845. Among staff members, there are 19 active cases (down from 60). The total number of staff cases has risen from 2,456 to 2,473. (Source: DOC official site)


Milwaukee IWOC has received numerous complaints from incarcerated people in Waupun CI that phones are being moved inconsistently and at limited hours, and that few people get access to them. A phone zap directed at Captain Wayne Bauer was executed on February 17.


(February 18) A group of prisoners are accusing Wisconsin DOC administrators of deliberate indifference in their disregard of CDC guidelines. With a civil rights complaint recently filed in federal court, the prisoners hope to protect themselves and their fellow inmates from the pandemic by prioritizing their vaccination. The civil rights complaint was filed “pro se,” or by the prisoners themselves, with the Eastern District Court of Wisconsin in late December. All of the plaintiffs are inmates at Thompson Correctional Center, a minimum-security facility east of Madison. According to their complaint the warden and other administrators with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections displayed “deliberate indifference…when, contrary to established Centers for Disease Control guidelines, they housed multiple inmates in the same room with beds less than six feet apart, overcrowded inmates in ‘quarantine’ cells, and have allowed quarantined inmates in the general population and common areas without enforcing health and safety protocols.” (Source: Arvind Dilawar, The Nation)


(February 12) For nearly a year, state Supreme Court officials sat on a court-authorized study that found clear racial disparities in the sentencing of felons by Wisconsin courts. The 23-page report, completed in January 2020, concluded Black men convicted of felonies have a 28% greater chance of ending up in prison in Wisconsin than white men. The odds of Black men receiving prison time are even higher for more serious felonies. Called “Race and Prison Sentencing In Wisconsin,” the study found a similar bias in the sentencing of Hispanic men and an even worse one for Native American men convicted of felonies. As for white male felons, they were 21% less likely than non-white male felons of ending up behind bars. It found no racial bias in the sentencing of women. Despite the state-funded study’s impressive sweep, it doesn’t appear that it was ever shared with the general public or even with the Wisconsin judiciary.  The existence of the report first came to light when Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack referenced it (and misrepresented its contents) in an email to all Wisconsin circuit court judges in June. (Source: Daniel Bice, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)


(February 11) Just under 690 jobs, or roughly 15 percent of corrections officer positions, are unfilled at Wisconsin’s prisons, according to data from the state Department of Corrections. The problem is most severe at Waupun Correctional Institution where 40 percent of jobs are vacant. The DOC announced in December it was closing a cell hall and transferring more than 200 prisoners from Waupun to help relieve the staffing shortage. Figures from the agency show 119 out of 297 corrections officer positions were vacant at the prison as of Feb. 2. A quarter of the state’s 36 correctional facilities have job vacancy rates of 20 percent or more, including Taycheedah and Columbia. DOC has 1,363 vacant positions, 13.4 percent of the agency’s more than 10,000 employees. (Source: Wisconsin Public Radio)


(February 18) Less than five months from a state-imposed deadline to close Wisconsin’s youth prisons, Gov. Tony Evers is looking to toss out that timeline and embrace what he called “a community-based approach to facilities” as he seeks to shutter the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons once and for all. “We are also going to change the way we sentence our youth…” Evers said in unveiling his budget Tuesday night. “Our justice system should be about both accountability but also about the opportunity for treatment and rehabilitation. And any meaningful reform of the juvenile justice system must include this approach.” Under Evers’ budget, in which he recommitted to closing Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, the sites would not be shuttered until all those housed there are transferred to different locations — though there’s no target deadline specified.  The prisons would then be replaced with locally-run secure residential sites, accompanied by changes in charging juveniles and placing them in facilities.(Source: The Cap Times)


The Parole Working Group of Milwaukee IWOC reports that DOC has made substantial changes to its policies and practices, making it more difficult to put someone in prison through revocation. The new policies are explained on the Town Halls: FAQ page of the DOC website. According to DOC, “While one of our goals is to safely reduce the number of revocations, we believe the changes discussed during the Town Hall give DOC the flexibility to achieve that goal. We are committed to this initiative and are putting in the work necessary to safely and thoughtfully reduce the prison population. Having some flexibility allows for extraordinary circumstances where we want the ability to address specific violations that may need a more stringent response.” 


A previous issue of Freedom’s Cause gave an outdated post office box address for the Coordination and Compliance Section of the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice. According to the DOJ website, all correspondence should be sent to its street address: 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20530-0001.  


(February 18-19) In a war of op-eds, State Representative David Steffen (R ) and State Senator Lena Taylor (D) traded views on a bill introduced by Steffen to delay the inoculation of incarcerated persons against the coronavirus. Steffen wrote, “Convicted criminals shouldn’t receive priority treatment for the COVID-19 vaccine ahead of anyone — especially not ahead of hardworking Wisconsinites who are at high risk due to preexisting conditions….We can all think of people we know who are far more deserving of the vaccine….Whoever you have on your list, let’s get them protected before we start vaccinating murderers, child abusers and rapists.” Sen. Taylor responded, “Incarcerated people are still PEOPLE. It is convenient to trot out the example of the murderer or the rapist and push all the emotional buttons about people who have done something to end up in jail. The reality is that that doesn’t represent the overwhelming number of people that we incarcerate….Bottom line, prisons are an incubator for the transmission of disease. We have a responsibility to keep the employees and incarcerated people in those facilities safe. These people are already serving their sentence and no, it wasn’t a death sentence.” (Sources: Wisconsin State Journal, Milwaukee Courier)

(February 16) Muslim prisoners face many of the same issues as other incarcerated people, including hindrances to basic necessities and hygiene such as toothpaste, deodorant, or female sanitary products. But they also face unique discriminatory practices, such as lack of fair access to religious material in prisons—despite federal laws that require equal access to these materials. Rick, an African American and Muslim prisoner, was in a correctional facility in a Midwestern state when he tried to obtain a Quran for worship. His request to the officer in charge was denied. But when he was told the price for it, he was shocked — it was far more than he could afford, and, significantly, was two to three times more expensive than a Bible. “I just couldn’t afford to buy the Quran, or anything else, for that matter,” he says, as he was denied a Quran multiple times. He resorted to secretly borrowing a copy of the Quran from another inmate. When guards were passing by, he had to make sure they did not see it. “The discrimination is so real. All that matters is your background and the color of your skin,” he says. (Source: Wisconsin Muslim Journal)